For the week of August 19 thru August 25, 1998  

Local US West workers join strike

Express Staff Writer

Anyone using directory assistance or trying to install a new phone line has probably experienced some kind of delay following a weekend strike by union employees of US West.

Telephone company workers belonging to the Communications Workers of America struck Saturday at midnight because of a labor dispute over wages and benefits.

Although most regular telephone communications are automated and thus not affected by the strike, technical services have been delayed, according to information from US West.

However, the Idaho Public Utilities Commission, which handles consumer complaints, said there has not been a major influx of calls from dissatisfied Idahoans.

In Hailey Monday, a small group of striking workers began picketing at 7 a.m.

"The company is trying to cut our wages by 20 percent," said local spokeswoman Vickie Leavitt, a central office technician with 24 years with the company. "The company wants us to pay 15 percent of our insurance for our dependents."

There are 11 US West employees in the valley and all are on strike, Leavitt said as she stood picketing.

Mike McKinnon, president of the CWA Local 7610, said 32,000 US West workers in 14 states are on strike.

According to information on the US West site on the Internet, the 32,000 striking workers have been temporarily replaced by 15,000 managers scheduled for 12 hour days, seven days a week through the strike.

There was no one available to speak for US West at corporate headquarters in Denver.

Phone calls to administrative offices there were greeted by a message that said, "I’m sorry. Due to the work stoppage, the operators are not available."

McKinnon said one reason employees struck is because a mandatory overtime policy forces workers to put long hours on Saturdays after a full week.

"You can’t even get time off to go on vacation," McKinnon said.

Likewise, a performance program that would require workers to achieve certain service benchmarks had the strikers worried.

"They want to be competitive. That’s the big thing," Leavitt said.

On Monday morning, the US West office on Main Street in Hailey was locked. A sign on the locked back door warned unauthorized people from entering.

The strikers in Hailey said they didn’t think a resolution was in sight.

"The company has been really hard-nosed," Leavitt said.

If the strike lasts 15 days, the workers will begin to collect $200 a week strike pay from the union.


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